Question: Is it so that when dying, there will be many karmic obstacles manifesting, that makes it hard to do Nianfo (practice of mindfulness of the name of Amitabha Buddha – ‘Amituofo’) to be born in his Pure Land?
Answer: If one’s negative karma is very strong, coupled with lack of the Three Provisions (of Faith, Aspiration and Practice), it might be so. However, what we should focus on now is to ensure that these provisions are adequate by then. With sincere, diligent and regular Nianfo in everyday life, much negative karma can be eradicated too, thus lessening or totally eliminating deathbed obstacles.
Especially with lifelong aspiration expressed with dedication of meritorious virtues (merits) to reach Pure Land, there will be no conflicting tempting karmic manifestations that distract us from reaching Pure Land swiftly. As long as the name of Amituofo is abided upon sincerely, especially once dying and till Pure Land is reached, there will not be karmic ‘tests’. This is so as the Buddha’s immeasurable pure power of blessings is greater than our limited negative karma.
Q: What about the case of an ancient monk who created much merits while practising much Nianfo, who experienced signs of a potential heavenly rebirth?
A: Here is the actual case of the monk, Master Seng Zang as summarised… Despite cultivating much meritorious virtues with Nianfo, he had the firm aspiration to reach Pure Land. When his life was about to end, he saw many heavenly beings appear to welcome him to the various heavens. However, as his aspiration was firm, he declined. Soon, he told those present that he has just been to Amituofo’s Pure Land, and saw many beings of superior goodness there, with scattered fragrant flowers filling the sky, after which he joined his palms and departed for Pure Land again. (The actual record can be read below in Chinese, along with its simplified version.)
What noteworthy is that the record did not say he was practising Nianfo just before the heavenly beings appeared. This means their appearance was not despite Nianfo, but before Nianfo. This is similar to concerned friends visiting one before one does Nianfo in the actual dying process. Anyway, as Master Seng Zang’s aspiration was firm, the heavenly temptations did not move him the slightest. In fact, his Nianfo practice was already so good, that he swiftly made it to Pure Land, returned and announced what he saw to inspire all survivors, before finally departing for it again. It is never such, that despite sincere Nianfo, that the immeasurably compassionate Amituofo does not swiftly come to guide and receive one to the safety of his Pure Land. When the Three Provisions are adequate, he will always immediately arrive.